Beat of the Drum

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Japan, People

You’ve probably heard of kumi-daiko drum groups before, even if you don’t know it by name. The modern art of Japanese drum groups, using Taiko drums, has spread to cultures worldwide in recent years and is a staple event for visitors to the country.

In the midst of a festival at Naritasan Shinshō-ji Temple in Narita, Japan, my sister and I were lucky enough to stumble upon one of these kumi-daiko shows. Vibrant, masked drummers filled the stage, chanting and pounding on almost a dozen different sized Taiko drums in spectacular harmony. Crowds filed to the stage to watch, and TV cameras locked on the performers. I stood to the side of the stage, struggling to get a shot through onlookers and other photographers without the back of someone’s head dominating the foreground. Suddenly, an older gentleman, noticing my struggle grabbed my arm and waved me through the rope that guarded the stage.

One trend my sister and noticed while visiting Tokyo is the different type of people interested in photography than in America. From what I’ve seen, digital photography tends to be more of a young person’s hobby or profession (not always the case, but more often than not). However, in Japan, anytime we saw someone photographing events and people or packing around loads of expensive camera equipment, the person was almost always an older man in his 70’s or 80’s. And their passion for taking photos was so evident it was infectious. So often if one of these seasoned photographers saw my camera they’d come and insist on using it to take pictures of us. He’d admire the camera (even if he was holding a better one) for a moment before taking a few minutes to span pictures of my family and me from all different angles, like he was on a professional photo shoot.

This man at the kumi-daiko show went above even that. He led me past the crowd and ropes, directly in front of the stage and only a few feet from the performers where only a few other photographers were shooting, somewhere I was sure I wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to go. I spent much of the show face to face with this green masked drummer and had the opportunity to get some photos of an amazing kumi-daiko drum show, thanks to this random photographer from the other side of the world and another generation.

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